Students start your reading!

Berryhill Elementary School has launched a new reading program, “Race to Read,” and to help them this school year is Nationwide Series driver Johanna Long from neighboring Pensacola.

Long, who is currently 19th in the Nationwide Series standings, visited the school on Thursday’s Family Night at the Book Fair.

“I am very excited Berryhill Elementary contacted me and wanted me to be a part of this program,” said Long, who won the 2010 Snowball Derby at 18 years of age. “It is awesome to help the little girls and boys in reading as well as reaching their goals.

“I feel that it is neat when someone is there to support you and urge you on to read more.”

Long has benefited from support herself with a string of recent strong finishes at Richmond International Raceway, Iowa Speedway, and Kentucky Speedway. She posted Top 15 finishes at the two intermediate tracks and was in the Top 5 at Richmond before issues relegated her to a 38th place finish.

Students at Berryhill Elementary have goals to achieve in Race to Read based on their grade level, according to school media specialist Katherine McCall.

“We have different levels of achievement depending on the student’s grade level,” McCall said. “For our young readers in kindergarten they have a goal of 10,000 words, while students in fifth grader have a goal of 1,000,000 words.”

McCall indicated the fifth grade goal would take eight or so books if a student reads a chapter book like Harry Potter, but it could involve significantly more books if they read what she terms a “picture or non-fiction book” on subjects like auto racing.

During the book fair a steady stream of students and parents stopped by to visit Long, while pausing to get an autograph or picture taken with the 20-year-old Nationwide Series rookie driver.

“It was so cool for her to come here and have the chance to meet her,” said eight year old Mya Ehlers, a second grader at Berryhill Elementary.

Seven year old Stephen King, described the experience of meeting Long as “pretty cool.”

Another person in awe of everything was Berryhill Elementary principal Roger Golden.

“I think it is just great to have someone like Johanna come here and give back to the community,” Golden said. “She is a role model to kids at this age and is promoting a good cause.

“Reading is the root to a good education.”

Long will help promote reading at Berryhill Elementary with occasional visits to the school. She also plans to bring some special prizes to students, while also encouraging them to excel at the challenges they may face in the Race to Read as well as life.

“I want to encourage them to face any challenge they may experience and to be ready for whatever it is,” Long said. “It doesn’t matter if it is racing, reading, school, or work.”

Long feels that while visiting Berryhill Elementary some of her personal experiences as a driver may come up as she tries to inspire the students.

“I am sure some of my experiences as a driver in the truck series and Nationwide Series will come up,” Long confessed. “I might even talk to them about my experiences running late models and the struggles I had while hoping for the opportunity I am experiencing now.”

In recognition of Long’s commitment to the school’s Race to Read program, Five Flags Speedway has given each student at Berryhill Elementary a ticket to the Oct. 12 Pro Late Model race in Pensacola.

Long, who still drives in the Pro Late Model Series when her schedule allows, is planning on running for her second Snowball Derby title later this year at Five Flags Speedway.

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